Terrible earthquake in South America.

--Total Destruction of a City and Awful Loss of Life.

A letter from Valparaiso, April 2d, gives the following account of the destruction of the city of Mondoza, and the attendant frightful scenes.

With feelings of deep regret I have to announce to you the utter destruction of the city of Mendoza, in the Argentine Republic, by an earthquake, on the evening of the 20th of March last. At that date, at half-past 8 P. M., a alight but prolonged vibration of the earth was felt in this city and in Santiago simultaneously. Most of the churches were densely filled, it being near the close of Lent, and some alarm and conclusion was created, but no serious accidents occurred, and tranquility was soon restored.

On Sunday, the 24th, however, a general gloom was cast over this city by the announcement by telegraph from the capital that Benigno Bruno, the mail rider, had arrived from Mendoza that morning without a mail, bringing the distressing news that there remained but a heap of ruins to point the spot where, a few days before, had stood a thriving and populous city of 15,000 souls.

Bruno stated that he arrived at Mendoza on the morning of the 20th, that at half-past 8 P. M., a brief but excessively violent shock of earthquake, lasting but six or eight seconds, destroyed every building, public and private, in the city, and that the number who were unabled to escape was very limited. The streets being narrow, the buildings high, and the inhabitants totally unused to such phenomena, were paralyzed with terror, and neglected, to seek refuge in the open courts of their dwellings until too late. The Postmaster was buried beneath the ruins of the Post-Office, the Governor was missing, and when asked why he brought no certificate that the mails were lost the messenger replied, ‘"There was no one left to write it, nor materials to write with."’

The aspect presented by the city after the first shock was terrific. Hoarse subterranean thunders deafened the air, animals of all kinds rushed frantically through the open spaces howling, the earth opened and vomited forth floods of water, while, to crown the scene of horror, flames burst from the ruins and consumed nearly the entire business portion of the city, with its dead, its dying and its wounded.

On the 28th a number of letters were received here and at Santiago by relatives and friends of Chileans residing in Mendoza, but the hope, until then entertained, that the earlier accounts were exaggerated, soon gave way to the dreadful certainty that the calamity had not yet been painted in colors sufficiently vivid. The earth still continued to tremble, the few walls that had resisted the first shock one by one fell, until now no vestige of a building remains. The mountain roads are in a most dangerous condition, not only on account of the huge masses of rock that have already fallen and obstructed the road, but because the vibration of the earth is still hurting them down from the heights above into the valleys.

The gauchos, or natives of the surrounding country, hastened to the spot, not to assist the needy or aid in reaching the wounded from a lingering death, but to seek for plunder among the smoking ruins, and to snatch the little saved from the wretched survivors. The gentleman writing from thence, after describing these horrors, says: ‘"I believe that in a few days we shall have no other law here than that of the poignant."’

The prison was destroyed; out of one hundred inmates, ninety-two perished. The remaining eight, who were already hardened villains, formed themselves into a band of free looters, and had gone, it was supposed, to the mountain passed, to intercept and rob the parties sent from Chile for the relief of the sufferers. One woman was found robbed and murdered by the roadside. She was recognized as one who was on her way to Mendoza to see her family. They, too, had all perished on the 20th.

In the Jesuit Church there was preaching that night. The services had just concluded, and the congregation was about dispersing, when the shock came. The few who had reached the plaza were saved, but the walls and roof of the building fell inward with a crash, and priest and penitent together were hurried into eternity.

The latest advices from Mendoza represent the suffering to be extreme, there being neither food, clothing nor shelter for the survivors, everything being buried beneath the ruins. --They also state that San Juan and San Luis, two other populous cities of the Confederation, have shared a like fate, the San Juan river having, after the shock, left its bed, and swept over the town, utterly destroying what the earthquake had spared. This news not having been fully confirmed, I do not, however, vouch for its correctness.

As soon as this disastrous news was rendered beyond question, the Government and private individuals vied with one another in energetic efforts to send immediate relief to their suffering brethren. Without waiting for the completion of the work, on the 30th a party of physicians and others left for the scene of the disaster, bearing medicines, food and clothing, and accompanied by a small body of troops.

The gloom and terror spread throughout the republic of Chile by this awful calamity may be imagined. Situated upon an eminently volcanic region, we have constant evidence of the insecurity of our tenure of existence.--Separated but by a chain of mountains from the scene of destruction, and taught by sad experience the frightful and irresistible force of the unheralded earth storm, we retire each night with a feeling of terrible insecurity. This coast has been frequently visited, in past years, by earthquakes. Chilean has been twice destroyed: Conception once, while Valparaiso, Santiago and Coptapo have suffered severely. No amount of human foresight, no precaution, avails against the mysterious visitor, who comes at dawn, at noonday or at midnight, and, in a few seconds, levels to the ground the proudest monuments of human skill.

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